1. Why were Jason Levien and Stu Lash fired?
If you know the real answer to this, you should probably get in touch with me. A week later, we still don't really know anything about what specifically Levien was fired for. After all, Pera was perfectly happy to have Levien and Lash attend the draft combine in Chicago, and (because he apparently desires to be an NBA owner without ever having to address the media) Pera hasn't specifically addressed any of it.
That's really my biggest complaint about the whole thing: it's entirely possible that the firing of Levien was completely justified. (Lash appears to have been collateral damage, fired purely for being known as Levien's right-hand man.)
The panic—and the damage to the Grizzlies' reputation as a well-run organization—has all come about because Pera hasn't said one word about why any of this happened. What direction was the team heading in that so dissatisfied Pera? What do these personnel changes enable Pera to do that he couldn't do before? It's 100% possible to answer these questions without gossiping about former employees. A change at the top of the basketball operation means, by definition, some sort of change in the on-court product, whether big or small. That's what needs to be addressed here. So... we don't know. Apparently we might never find out.
2. Isn't Jason Levien a liar and a scoundrel, though?
The truth, as ever, is probably somewhere in the middle—although I must point out that Jason Levien's being a shady dealer and the possibility that Pera is out of his depth and a little crazy are not mutually exclusive. It's clear in the aftermath of Levien's dismissal that he was probably either (1) trying to do too much or (2) not paying the attention to Pera that Pera felt he deserved or (3) both, especially after reading Chris Herrington's excellent TrueHoop piece from yesterday.
Crazy times in the Grizzlies organization continue. According to multiple sources, but first reported by Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, head coach Dave Joerger has been granted permission to interview for the Minnesota Timberwolves' head coach opening.
Joerger is from Minnesota, and has ties to Flip Saunders, so it's not a surprise at all that the Timberwolves came calling. What's surprising—or it would've been surprising before the Grizzlies' Red Wedding reenactment on Monday—is that Joerger was granted permission to interview for the job.
It's been widely reported that Griz owner Robert Pera wanted to fire Joerger early in the season. The reported number was 30 or so games into the season. I've heard from more than one source that Pera may have wanted Joerger fired as early as four or five games into the season. Which, of course, is stupid. But The guys who hired Joerger to replace Lionel Hollins are gone, and now Joerger appears to be free to go if he chooses to, so...
...we'll see. We'll see what the Griz front office looks like after Pera reconstructs it in the way he sees fit, and who fills the coaching opening. There are good coaches available (George Karl) and crappy coaches available (Mark Jackson). Somebody's going to be the coach, anyways.
With any luck, the Grizzlies will get their act together before long. How much luck do the Grizzlies have?
Well, yesterday was interesting. It started with this:
Hearing major shakeup forthcoming in Memphis: Team CEO Jason Levien is poised to resign from club after assistant GM Stu Lash was dismissed
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 19, 2014
Which was met with this:
— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) May 19, 2014
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) May 19, 2014
— Chris Vernon (@ChrisVernonShow) May 19, 2014
...and then everyone and anyone who covers the Grizzlies scrambling to Twitter, text messages, and phone calls to try to get any semblance of an idea of what was going on.
Whatever the details, the message sent yesterday was clear: Robert Pera is asserting his will here. After two seasons of ownership—really only one full season with all of his management team in place, Pera decided he didn't like what he saw, and decided Levien (and Lash, apparently simply by virtue of being Levien's right hand man) had to go.
I spoke to several minority owners yesterday, and none of them had any clue this was about to happen. "Shocked" was the word that kept coming up. The sense I got from conversations yesterday—and what was reported by others (like Chris Herrington, Geoff Calkins, and Chris Vernon) yesterday—was that the minority owners liked Levien, and had no reason to think he wouldn't be continuing in his role. After all, Levien was the guy who put together the ownership group in the first place. Levien was the glue that made the sale of the franchise hang together. It's not clear to me exactly what the confrontation between Pera and Levien was, other than some sort of power struggle. Robert Pera apparently had different ideas.
The press release issued by team owner Robert Pera was terse and light on details:
The Memphis Grizzlies announced today that following discussions with management, the decision was made for Jason Levien and Stu Lash to depart the organization.
"Our franchise has made tremendous strides over the last few seasons and we thank Jason for his hard work and dedication and wish him nothing but success in his future endeavors," said Grizzlies Controlling Owner Robert Pera. "Rest assured that we remain as committed as ever to bringing a championship to this great city and we are confident that when the new season begins our fans will be excited about both our roster and the direction of our organization."
Going forward, existing Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace will assume interim responsibility for the franchise's basketball operations and Chief Operating Officer Jason Wexler will remain responsible for the franchise's business operations.
The Flyer's Kevin Lipe will have more on the situation as it develops.
Note: this is the second installation of an ongoing series examining the question marks on the Grizzlies' roster as the team enters the offseason. The first installment is here.
This edition of Roster Rundown will be brief(ish) because there's only one: Ed Davis. (What's a restricted free agent, you ask? Wikipedia has a good explanation.)
The Grizzlies' young forward, acquired from Toronto in the three-team deal that sent Rudy Gay northward, Davis was regarded then as a valuable part of the trade, a young asset who had the potential to be the Grizzlies' Power Forward Of The Future™. Lionel Hollins hated his guts, clearly, or at the very least, didn't think he could play, and so he didn't. Part of the "word on the street" was that that lack of playing time—and an inflexibility about rotation decisions—was part of the big cauldron of tension stew that the front office took under consideration when they decided not to bring Hollins back on a contract extension.
Fast forward to this season, and Davis played in 63 out of 82 regular season games, averaging 15 minutes a game. Most of those came in the middle of the season with Marc Gasol out, but still—not exactly the consistent play you'd like to see from a guy who was starting in Toronto when he was traded. Davis so far appears to be unable to earn time in a crowded frontcourt rotation, and at times, it seemed like Jon Leuer was the clear candidate for fourth big in the rotation.
Now that the season's over and we've all had a little bit of time to cool off, let's take a look at the Grizzlies' roster from the 2013-14 season with an eye toward who's going to be here next season. There are all kinds of question marks surrounding the players on the team—from player options to restricted free agents to unguaranteed final years—and those questions will be answered sooner rather than later as the Griz front office makes the changes they feel they need to make.
We'll start with the unrestricted free agents (and see Larry Coon's world-famous NBA CBA FAQ page if you really want to understand the labyrinthine ins and outs of NBA free agency). These are the guys who don't have a contract for next year, and can sign with any team they want to: Mike Miller, Beno Udrih, and James Johnson.
Ah, Mike Miller, ah, humanity!
Seriously, though, Miller gave the Grizzlies some much-needed outside shooting, even if ultimately it wasn't enough. Earlier in the season, when Courtney Lee was shooting 5 percentage points above his career average, Lee and Miller made the Grizzlies one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league (when was the last time you heard that?) spreading the floor out so the big men could go to work, while serving as reliable escape valves for when the low-post action broke down.
Miller played for the Grizzlies for the veteran's minimum, since Miami (who amnestied Miller last summer) is still on the hook for his whole salary for 2013-14 and 2014-15—any deal that brings him back to the Griz will have to be for the same minimum next year because of the way the amnesty clause works.
Miller, obviously, had his most reliable season in years, appearing in every single game of the regular season and playoffs (89 total) and if that reliability keeps up—the reliability of his health, of course, being his biggest downside over the past few seasons—he's going to be worth a three-year deal. He's said he wants to come back to the Grizzlies "as long as he's treated fairly," which, to my mind, means "as long as I get offered a three-year deal."
Now that the season is really over—the players have given their final media interviews and met with the coaching staff and front office for exit interviews—we can start to get some distance from and perspective on what the Grizzlies were this year.
They were a mess, but they were a really entertaining, hard-working mess.
Coming into the first season under rookie coach Dave Joerger, there was a lot of talk about picking up the pace, about installing some new motion-oriented stuff into the Griz playbook. About not relying so much on isolation scoring, especially in the post. For whatever reason, when they actually tried to run it in the regular season, it didn't work—whether the players revolted, or they were just over-thinking it because they were worried about who to pass to, or whether they just weren't the right group of guys to run the stuff, it didn't happen. By the time the Grizzlies got to the middle/end of November, heading out on a 4-game road trip to California, they were in a hole, the stars (other than Mike Conley) looked like they'd checked out, and everything was coming to pieces.
And then they went on the road, got back to playing inside-out basketball—I think it was Tony Allen who said they "started running plays from last year"—and won all four games, games against the Warriors, Kings, Lakers, and Clippers, the dreaded Early Season California Trip that has damaged the records of so many past Griz teams. Coming back from the road trip, everything seemed to be back on track...
...until Marc Gasol went down with a grade 2 sprain of his MCL.
The moment that happened, those of us sitting behind our laptops at the scorers' table exchanged some "We're screwed" glances, and started writing articles about how the Grizzlies could probably get a good lottery pick if they packed it in for the season—but that if somehow they could hang around .500 until Gasol returned, they might have a chance of still making the playoffs.
Which is exactly what they did. The injuries continued to pile up, though. Tony Allen went down with a wrist/hand injury that would cause him to miss more games than Gasol. Zach Randolph missed games with a bad ingrown toenail. Tayshaun Prince had too many injuries to name because he was playing without any conditioning whatsoever thanks to a severe illness during the preseason. Quincy Pondexter was lost for the year in December with a stress fracture in his foot. Shockingly, the only Grizzly to play in all 82 games was Mike Miller, whose health has been something of an issues since the last time he wore a Grizzlies uniform.
Things were happening besides injuries, though: the roster started to evolve. Jerryd Bayless was traded for Courtney Lee. James Johnson was added from the D-League after good seasons with Chicago and Toronto but a bad one with Sacramento. Nick Calathes was installed as the backup point guard and allowed to rack up minutes. Because of the injuries, Kosta Koufos started and Jon Leuer and Ed Davis backed him up. Everyone got to play and everyone contributed. There were nights when it didn't work, of course—one particularly rough blowout at FedExForum by the Thunder comes to mind—but somehow, it mostly did. The Griz had a top-10 offense for a while, after Ed Davis spent a week beating up on inferior teams.
Once Gasol got back, the race was on—and the Grizzlies were ridiculous, winning something like 70% of the games in which Mike Conley and Marc Gasol both played (a higher percentage than last season when those two played together, and last year's team won 56 games). There were still times, though, when it seemed like it wasn't going to be enough. Dallas never got worse. Phoenix never got worse. It seemed like the Grizzlies were going to pull off an improbably feat and win 50 games and still not be good enough to make the playoffs.
We all know how that went. The Griz closed the regular season on a five-game winning streak, including wins over the Heat, Suns, and Mavericks, and ended up the seventh seed, where they played the Oklahoma City Thunder for the third time in four postseasons. These two teams have played nineteen playoff games against each other since April of 2011, and almost all of them have been instant classics, with seven overtimes and one unforgettable 3OT. This year was no different, the first series in NBA history with four straight overtime games. By Game 7, though, the deck was stacked against them, missing too many guys and facing a team with the best player in the NBA (this regular season, anyway) and his top-20 player, wildcard sidekick. Once Durant and Westbrook started regressing to the mean—which, in this series, meant shooting the lights out no matter how well the shot was contested—it wasn't meant to be.
But at the same time, if they hadn't gotten off to a slow start, maybe they'd have ended up with the sixth seed. If they'd taken care of business on the road the last week of the season and beaten Portland and Golden State, the 5 seed was within reach. This year had more "what if"s than any Griz season of the recent era—so many things could have gone slightly differently and changed the complexion of the whole year.
It was a year that proved this team really is "All Heart, Grit, Grind" while at the same time making us wonder if maybe it wouldn't be more fun to watch a team that played with a little more fluidity. A year that proved Zach Randolph can still be a go-to 20-10 guy when he's healthy but made us wonder how much longer that would be the case. A year that proved Mike Conley can be an All Star, 30-point-scoring menace to opposing defenses, but made us wonder whether someone would have to be removed from the roster to give him the space necessary to do that consistently.
Lots of questions, lots of forks in the road, and in the end, a tough group of players who take so much pride in what they do—and in the city they do it for—that they refused to stop fighting until the last buzzer sounded. We're going to be talking about this season for a while, whether it was the last run for this core of four or not. There were too many things wrong with it; too many victories won by sheer effort and assertion of physical will; too many Neck Tattoo Giveaway Nights while the heel Clippers were in town; too many wins and too many overtimes for it to be forgotten.
Follow Kevin Lipe at Beyond the Arc, the Flyer's Grizzlies blog, and at
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
(T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men")
Game 7 was not the way this was supposed to end: with Zach Randolph suspended for punching (or maybe "punching") Steven Adams in the face during Game 6. With Mike Conley unable to do anything more than jog due to a hamstring injury. With Tony Allen running around with one and a half good eyeballs thanks to Caron Butler. Still missing Nick Calathes thanks to his 20-game Tamoxifen suspension. Still missing Quincy Pondexter, who missed so many games this year I forgot he was on the roster from time to time.
But that's what the Grizzlies had coming into Game 7 in Oklahoma City on Saturday night: themselves, and not much more. A slim hope of being able to beat the Slim Reaper without a healthy Conley. Z-Bo's suspension was a loss, too—don't get me wrong—but Conley is the engine that makes the Grizzlies run. He's the power source at the center, the initiator of everything. Without Conley, (and especially without Conley and the pass-first run-the-offense play of Calathes) nothing happens.
And yet, Dave Joerger did the only thing he could do: try to create chaos and give the Grizzlies an advantage. He did that by making the first change to the starting lineup he's made since Gasol returned from injury: Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Mike Miller, and Marc Gasol. Starting off with smallball in hopes of stretching out the Thunder D and swarming the strong side even more than usual on the other end, generating turnovers and transition attempts.
Through the first quarter, it worked—and seemingly caught the Thunder completely off guard. The Mini-Griz shot and stole their way to a 36 point performance, the most points they've scored in a quarter all season long, leading the Thunder by 9. It even kept working through the second quarter, as Joerger went to the crazy-deep bench to roll out lineups we'd never seen before, using guys like Beno Udrih, Jon Leuer, and Kosta Koufos to keep the Griz afloat against a Thunder team that looked like it was starting to get its feet under it. After trailing 3 at the half, the biggest problem for the Griz felt like it would be the three fouls on Tony Allen and Marc Gasol...
...but the biggest problem for the Griz was that KD is the best player in the league and Russell Westbrook is also on his team. The two of them came out in the second half possessed, hitting everything they threw up against a defensively-challenged set of Griz rotations, while Tony Allen tried to do too much and instead racked up fouls and bricked open jumpers early in the shot clock. They (the Thunder) started swarming on defense the way they had in the second half of Game 1, when the Grizzlies looked dead in the water and headed for a sweep.
You know the thing where the this season's Memphis Grizzlies team will come out in a big game—one that they ostensibly have to win, even—and play 48 minutes of garbage-ball, getting outworked and outplayed on both ends of the floor, throwing up bricks while head coach Dave Joerger mixes and matches weird combinations of players who haven't seen much time together in an attempt to find a magic spark that will light off a comeback?
That thing happened again, only this time it happened in Game 6 of the first round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a series the Grizzlies led 3-2 with a chance to put away the Thunder and advance to the second round of the playoffs before the start of Thursday night's game.
It happened again at the worst possible moment, and the Grizzlies missed their easiest shot at eliminating the Western Conference's second seed.
Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince even admitted as much in the Griz locker room after the game last night:
I asked Tayshaun Prince if he was surprised that the Griz came out with such low intensity compared with the Thunder in such a big game:— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) May 2, 2014
"I'm not surprised. And I say that because we've been in a position all year where we've played up and down, and not consistent throughout."— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) May 2, 2014
TA on Griz lack of intensity: "I don't know. I just think they wanted it more, honestly..."— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) May 2, 2014
But then, the Grizzlies have never done the easy thing this season. Whether the circumstances were beyond their control—injuries to Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen; twenty-game suspensions for Nick Calathes—or completely within them—road losses at the end of the season against Minnesota, Portland, and Golden State; inexplicable home losses to the Lakers and Pelicans; you name it—the Grizzlies' path in the 2013-2014 season has been the hard one, the one least likely to offer the way to success, the one involving the most pain and struggle for the players and the most fear and doubt for the fanbase.
This time there was no overtime. There was no drama. There were no four-point plays. No grit. No grind. Thursday night's win by the Thunder over the Memphis Grizllies was just an old-fashioned, wire-to-wire 20-point butt-kicking: 104-84.
Maybe we bluff a little?
Kevin Durant started fast and never slowed down. Russell Westbrook slashed and slammed. The Grizzlies' big men could do very little, as the Thunder blocked 11 shots. This was enhanced by the horrendous play of the Grizzlies small men, who couldn't buy a bucket. It was a horror show.
Coach Dave Joerger could find no answers as he went deep into his bench in the second half. Now, the Grizzlies return to Oklahoma City Saturday facing a do-or-die game. Win and advance to play the Clippers or Golden State. Lose and it's time to work on your golf game.
Editor's note: Kevin Lipe's game six post will be up later this morning.